We did a long walking tour today of Hanoi which was honestly fascinating. Today is a national holiday in Vietnam – Reunification Day – marking the day that the North Vietnamese captured Saigon in 1975. As such, the streets were packed with Vietnamese and western tourists alike. The line to see Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum wrapped around the block, so we decided to just to view it from outside rather than go in.
The grounds of the Presidential Palace were also packed with people craning their necks to see the two modest houses Ho Chi Minh allegedly chose to live in – rather than the grand palace a few feet away that was built by the French. After a lunch of delicious local delicacy Bun Cha at Know One Teach One (a great charity teaching impoverished children skills for success in the tourism industry), we headed off to the beautiful Temple of Literature, established in the 11th century as a university and temple to Confucius.
As an American, it was the final stop of the day that I had most been looking forward to – the “Hanoi Hilton.” I’d heard that the museum was even more skewed than the one we visited in Saigon about the Vietnam War, but I was honestly still surprised to find that even our guide maintained that the conditions for American POWs during the war were excellent in the former French colonial prison. He smiled brightly and said: “The Americans call this Hanoi Hilton because they were treated as well here as a five star hotel,” without a single note of irony in his voice.
It seems that the propaganda war is still very much alive here in North Vietnam.